Who's going to win the Cy Young Awards from the shortened 2020 season? You'll have to wait until Wednesday evening to find out (6 p.m., MLB Network), but that doesn't mean we can't make our guesses. We're not, to be clear, asking who should win. We're thinking about who will win.
There's a huge difference there, because this isn't about eyeballing the various stats, traditional and advanced, to try to define who had the best season. We're thinking about the fact that the awards are decided by human beings, 30 in each league -- that's two members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America per market -- who take different approaches in their balloting and value different metrics. It's November, after all, so we're never going to stop talking about voting.
In order to look ahead, we look back, to see what voters have traditionally valued in the past, using Tom Tango's Cy Young predictor tool. (Tango is a senior data architect for MLB.com and has consulted for several Major League teams in the past.)
The formula is as simple as can be: Cy Points = (IP/2 - ER) + SO/10 + W
That's it. No fancy advanced data, no Statcast metrics, though some voters will surely account for those things. No matter how far we have come in baseball analysis, awards like these still often come down to "who pitched the most innings and allowed the fewest runs," with strikeouts and occasionally wins as tiebreakers.
Last year, for example, it accurately predicted that Jacob deGrom would win and that Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole would essentially tie. Let's also quote ourselves from when we investigated in advance of 2019's awards: "In 2015, it got the top five in both leagues in the right order. In 2016, it correctly predicted the three finalists in both leagues. In 2017, it correctly got the AL finalists in order."
You get the idea. It's not perfect -- because what can be? -- but it's useful, a fun way to look at what might happen when you learn the outcomes on Wednesday. This year, it's particularly interesting, not just because of the 60-game season and a regionalized schedule, but because the races in the two leagues look very different. The AL has an obvious front-runner; the NL is a jumbled mess.
Finalists: Shane Bieber (CLE), Kenta Maeda (MIN), Hyun Jin Ryu (TOR)
45 points -- Bieber
27 points -- Maeda
26 points -- Ryu
Bieber is going to win this. That's actually understating it; he's going to win it unanimously. He's going to win this by so much that there was actually a strong argument to be made that he should have been the American League Most Valuable Player. There's not even much point in delving into this part too far, other than to say Bieber had baseball's lowest ERA (1.63) and collected the most strikeouts (122). You don't need a tool to predict his victory, but just look at the gap in points there. It'll be a shock if even a single voter comes up with a different first-place name.
What's far more interesting here, however, is that while fellow finalists Maeda and Ryu each had fantastic AL debuts after sharing a Dodgers locker room for the past four seasons, neither one actually finished in the top three per the tool's methodology. Second place went to Cole; third, ever so narrowly above Maeda, was Dallas Keuchel.
That's partially because of their strength in one or two particular categories. Cole had the third-most strikeouts and pitched the second-most innings, though a rough pair of starts at the end of August pushed his ERA above three until the end of the season. Keuchel's 1.99 ERA was second only to Bieber's, though his strikeout rate was well below the league average, which likely cost him in the eyes of voters. Maeda and Ryu, by comparison, may have seemed more "well-rounded."
Ultimately, no one's going to remember who finished second, third, fourth or fifth anyway. This one is going to be Bieber, by a landslide.
Prediction tool's choice: Bieber
Our choice: Bieber
Our prediction: Bieber
Finalists: Trevor Bauer (CIN), Yu Darvish (CHC), Jacob deGrom (NYM)
38 points -- Darvish
38 points -- Bauer
30 points -- deGrom
This one's a lot tighter, where Darvish and Bauer are essentially tied. (Darvish is ever so slightly ahead if you take it out to decimal points.) Interestingly, deGrom is one of the three voting finalists, but he is fourth by the Cy predictor, which has San Diego's Dinelson Lamet in third with 31 points.
We think Bauer is going to win, because it's hard to look past a 1.73 ERA and more than a dozen strikeouts per nine, though it's easy to make a case in a few different directions. (We'd have gone for Darvish, who had a lower walk rate and a home run rate half of Bauer's, but it's clearly splitting hairs here.) The two-time defending champ, deGrom, had yet another fine season, though he was slightly derailed by a late-season hamstring issue. In a short season where no one was starting more than a dozen times, that's all it takes to knock you off track.
Not only is this a tight race, there are a ton of considerations that can't be found on the back of a baseball card that come into play here.
For example: Should deGrom gain extra credit because he didn't get to face the weak offenses of the Central divisions? (Our view: No. There's a whole chicken-or-the-egg question about great Central pitching or weak Central hitting, and he did get to face a weak Marlins offense four times in a row.) How much did Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes, who would have led the NL in FIP, get hurt by the fact that he missed the qualification mark by one out? (A lot.) What do we make of Bauer's near-unprecedented jump in spin rate? (Shrug emoji.)
We expect Bauer to win this one, but it's going to be close. Regardless of the margin, it's a nice prize to take into his free agency, where he will clearly be the best pitcher available.
Prediction tool's choice: Darvish, barely
Our choice: Darvish
Our prediction: Bauer